Kimiko Does Cancer: A Graphic Memoir

Kimiko Tobimatsu, a 25-year-old queer, mixed-race Canadian woman with no history of health problems discovers a lump on her breast. In this powerful and honest autobiographical memoir, depicting her emotional and physical experiences with breast cancer, superbly illustrated by Keet Geniza, the reader weaves through the corridors of this disease with Kimiko. Her story commences with the newly complex life of constant appointments, evaluations, treatments, and the difficult conversations with everyone she cares about as she contemplates having breast cancer. The most appealing aspect of this novel, for me, is how the author and illustrator expand the customary narrative of cancer patients to illuminate the continual issues, rarely discussed, once a patient is deemed “cancer-free.”

“There’s not a lot of writing out there on cancer and disability. Maybe because for those of us who are now cancer-free, the ongoing symptoms are after-effects (of surgery, radiation, meds), not the result of disease still being present.  Or maybe it’s because the mainstream cancer narrative is about overcoming adversity, not about experiencing ongoing disability” (92).

Kimiko’s relative youth generates a multitude of additional concerns once the cancer has been contained. She becomes highly aware of her body, its image, the food she consumes, the relationships new and old, being queer, all while becoming attuned for the perpetual need to rest, regroup, and rejuvenate. Her relationships with her family, especially her mother, play a huge role in Kimiko’s self-discovery as does her floundering relationship with her partner. She addresses many popular mindsets, within and outside, the medical profession regarding gender expression, reconstructive breast surgery, reproduction, early menopause, and the stereotypes perpetuated by the ubiquitous “pink ribbon” campaigns. In this compellingly told story, she shares with the reader her discoveries of how she found her own approach to move forward and the energy and dedication that the move demanded on her personally. As mentioned previously this is a robust resource for others who do not see themselves in standard breast cancer tales.

Geniza’s use of muted blues, blacks, and grays intensify the gravity of the situation, highlighting, through the expressive facial portraits, the fatigue and worry that the experience has on all those involved, not only the protagonist. The illustrations add to the tenderness, the pain, and the hope of those within Kimiko’s circle. The illustrations effectively and economically enhance the text in the relating of the narrative and in bringing the characters alive for the readers.

I must add a disclaimer here, your reviewer experienced similar encounters with the upside-down experiences of being diagnosed with breast cancer and its after effects. Kimiko’s story, although quantitatively different, strongly resonated with me as I reviewed her story and especially her disclosures about the aftermath of being “cancer-free”. Ironically, perhaps, I found reading this graphic novel experience joyful and poignant. It reverberated loudly with me although I match the perceived demographic of breast cancer patients in Canada. Her story strongly demonstrates that each person’s experience is uniquely their own, regardless of common, or in this case, uncommon markers of the disease and treatment. It also points to the unexpected interconnections in the shared experiences as well.

This graphic novel is a strong entry in the genre of graphic medicine and should be widely accessible in all public libraries as well as academic library collections highlighting memoirs, health and wellness narratives, and LGBTQ dialogues.


Kimiko Does Cancer: A Graphic Memoir
By Kimiko Tobimatsu
Art by Keet Geniza
ISBN: 9781551528199
Arsenal Pulp, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Queer
Creator Highlights: Japanese-Canadian, Queer, Genderqueer, Disability

Ghosted in L.A.

Ghosted in L.A. is a new Boom! Box series by Sina Grace, illustrated by Siobhan Keenan with colors by Cathy Le. If Grace’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s behind the solo X-Men book Iceman, in which Iceman comes out of the closet. While Ghosted in L.A. isn’t a superhero comic it does have that same witty and heartfelt dialogue I’ve grown to love from Grace. This is a realistic comic with a paranormal bend.

Daphne Walters follows her boyfriend to college in Los Angeles and gets way more than she bargained for in the process. Daphne doesn’t really ask herself what she really wants in life, and instead takes on the interests and hobbies of her boyfriends. Her best friend, Kristi, calls her out on it right before Daphne moves from Missoula, Montana to the city of Angels. This results in Daphne cutting off her Kristi.

Daphne is idealistic and unfettered as she takes on the new adventures awaiting her in college, but things don’t go as planned. Her roommate is a moody girl who drives Daphne out of their room by hosting bible studies and Ronnie, her boyfriend, dumps her the first week of class. This sends her running into (literally) Rycroft Manor, a seemingly abandoned apartment complex. Daphne takes a dip in the pool only to discover Rycroft Manor is haunted! The ghosts are mostly friendly and lead by Agi, who agrees to let Daphne stay on a temporary basis. What could go wrong?

Ghosted in L.A. is a fun story that has a bit of mystery to it. Why are the ghosts haunting Rycroft Manor? Why hasn’t a developer hasn’t tried to flip the property? What’s the backstory of each ghost? And will Daphne figure out what she wants in life? All these answers lie in most of the first volume, and I’m eager for the second volume to come out so I can find out more! Also, there’s a great LGBT storyline between one of the ghosts and Ronnie.

Content warning for sexual assault in one storyline. Daphne goes out with a pushy bro to get over Ronnie. He isn’t good at taking no for an answer, and luckily the ghosts save the day. This is definitely an older teen and up read.

Grace is great at weaving a compelling story, and I love how Daphne’s slang is a little out of time and place just like the ghosts she befriends. Keenan’s art has clean lines and she’s great at fashions since the ghost range from the 1930s to the present. Grace lends his artistic hand to the first three pages and some of the covers. His style is a little blockier than Keenan’s, but it still fits in with the tone of the comic. The colors are fantastic in this book! Le is great at using a subdued palette for the ghosts and supernatural activity while having living characters pop with brighter colors. If you’re looking to add to your older teen/new adult graphic novel collections then Ghosted in L.A. would be a welcome addition.

Ghosted in L.A. 
By Sina Grace
Art by Siobhan Keenan and Sina Grace
ISBN: 9781684155057
Boom! Box, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Teen

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Gay
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, LGBTQIA+ Creator

Sanpaku

The concept of sanpaku is that if you have white space above or below your iris that you are doomed. Marcine, the protagonist of Sanpaku by Kate Gavino, becomes obsessed with this idea. She discovers that famous people like JFK, Marilyn Monroe, and Abraham Lincoln have had this affliction.

The author of You are all Sanpaku, a real book that popularized the concept of sanpaku, Sakurawa Myoki, believed that sanpaku was the cause of the West’s decline. He argued that Americans were out of tune with their bodies and the universe. He believed that a diet of brown rice, umeboshi plums, and bancha tea were the cure. Also, that you had to chew your food at least 50 times. Marcine believes it’s a ‘load of crap’ before discovering that her Lola (grandmother) may have it. She becomes overzealous in her pursuit to escape sanpaku and gets rid of all her food except for a can of Spam. Despite all of Lola’s efforts, she soon passes away. Marcine becomes more determined to save others from the curse.

Marcine’s story takes place in the Philippines, where we can see the confluence of two cultures: Filipino and Spanish. Marcine goes to a Catholic private school, and works at a supermarket trying to catch shoplifters. The owner of the supermarket takes pictures of the thieves and posts their picture on a wall. Marcine discovers that her Lola had stolen some Durian jam. Temptation and the need to know what it feels like plague Marcine’s thoughts. She finds herself stealing a paper dog from the store.

Two events—one pulled from the real world, one fictional—have a huge impact on the kind of person Marcine will become. A woman named Vilma is up for consideration for sainthood. At the same time, we learn that Selena, the Tejano singer, has been killed by her manager. Many people feel great sorrow at the loss of Selena. Poetry is written, her music is played on the radio all day long. Sorrow turns into disappointment as a Jehovah’s Witness magazine proclaims that Selena was raised a ‘Jehovah’s Witness’. This leads the mostly Catholic population to assertions that Selena can’t go to heaven, or her death was caused by her religion because Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe in blood transfusions. This goes to show how rumors can destroy or harm a person’s reputation. The same things happens with Vilma. A rumor circulates that Vilma was involved in a lesbian relationship. Vilma had sculpted a version of the Lady of Guadalupe, and used her friend as a nude model. For Marcine, these events reveal how gossip and not facts can impact a person’s legacy.

The graphic novel is the size of a small album. Every illustration is one panel only. The background on each individual page change. Some are in wavy patterns, square shapes, circles, or intricate tiles. This allows us to focus on the characters front and center and put everything else to the side. Everything is black and white, the only color being on the front cover. The art work seemed very basic with the patterns and characters populating the frame. I would have liked more action and less patterns.

Sanpaku is a story for those who like coming of age stories. It offers a unique perspective into a different country and culture. I liked the theme of not following rumors or religious fervor to discover your own path in life. I found Sanpaku to be very culture specific and for somebody outside the Filipino culture there were parts that went above my head. I would recommend this for libraries to expand their Own Voices collections and for those with large Filipino communities. While the story has some adult themes, I would find this suitable for older and mature teens to read.

Sanpaku
by Kate Gavino
ISBN: 9781684152100
Archaia, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

Almost American Girl

Robin Ha writes in the Acknowledgements page at the end of her graphic novel, Almost American Girl: “So you can only imagine how thrilled Mom was when I finally told her I had been working on this memoir for over a year and found a publisher for it. After realizing there was no turning back on this project, Mom insisted that I at least leave her out of my story completely. I told her that would be impossible. She was the driving force behind it. If she hadn’t wanted me to write this story, she shouldn’t have brought me to America in the first place. Mom was so upset with me that she avoided me for months.”

This acknowledgement is a bittersweet moment for this reader after spending time with Ha’s journey as a young teen, first in South Korea and then in the southern United States, powerless and bewildered and, at that time, totally dependent upon her single mother. Ha could not have articulated, in print and illustration, her story without her mother’s presence whom, at the beginning of Ha’s tale, was considered a superhero to her daughter. This memoir effectively and beautifully illuminates Ha’s early experiences as well as contemporary issues of immigration, the sense of belonging, parent and child relationships, the stress resulting from social hostility toward single parenthood, bullying, and, in balance, highlights the power and impact of art in determining self.

Ha’s artistic ability is the grounding for her as she presses forward counter to new step siblings that are obstructive at every junction, not understanding much of the language at school or the school culture, and being able to make friends. She also no longer has access to the volumes of manga and manhwa she and her friends devoured. This is a time of extreme tribulation and only subsides when circumstances allow her and her mother to move to a more accommodating part of the country where she finally connects with others who are much more compatible with her. Ha’s command of the written word is a testimony to this blossoming journey of self awareness and growth as an individual and artist. The comic drawing class she is encouraged to join becomes her escape from her seclusion and gloom.

Ha’s art illuminates the locations in both Korea and the United States, her realistic characters are actualized and individualized, and is permeated with a soft color palate with splashes of bright color when she is experiencing excitement or other strong emotions. Ha’s illustrations extend a glimpse into the frustrations and alienation caused by the paucity of comprehension of unfamiliar language and society. The varied employment of panels successfully carries the transitions the reader experiences from Ha’s ordinary life to that of her fictional world and back again. The chapters are all delineated by a solo snapshot page filled with dense colours that offer a glimpse to the episode to follow. This is an emotional ride for all those involved, characters and reader.

Highly recommended.

Almost American Girl
By Robin Ha
ISBN: 9780062685094
Harper/Balzer + Bray, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Young Adult

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Korean American
Creator Highlights: Own Voices

Everything is Beautiful and I’m Not Afraid: A Baopu Collection

Everything is Beautiful and I’m Not Afraid: A Baopu Collection explores the identity, imagination, and struggle of cartoonist Yao Xiao. Baopu is a monthly, serialized comic published in Autostraddle, a online community dedicated to publishing independent, progressively feminist, queer media. Thus, Everything is Beautiful and I’m Not Afraid: A Baopu Collection allows us to enter the universe of a bisexual, Chinese-American emigrant woman, an identity not often, if ever, shown in popular media. The collection includes both never before seen comics and fan favorites.

Baopu is a Taoist word used to illuminate the importance of simplicity and the ideal of living in a simpler state. Xiao clearly exemplifies this ideal through her work. The artwork is understated and the writing is accessible. The use of simplicity in Xiao’s artwork conveys a feeling of intimacy. Every comic in this compilation seems like it could have easily come directly from Xiao’s diary. And, frankly, this makes her comics likeable. Regardless of your identity, Xiao’s artwork is relatable. Xiao portrays herself in pseudo-minimalist drawings throughout each comic. In fact, her line work is so uncomplicated that her character is often only identifiable by a triangular hat differentiating her from the characters around her. While some readers may find the lack of detailing in her work frustrating, others will find it endearing.

As for the actual writing in this collection, once again readers may find themselves divided. Some of Xiao’s writing, such as one comic highlighting her frustration to pick a—literal—box, may read as cliched and a bit saccharine. However, other comics, such as those highlighting her loneliness as an immigrant, are quite poignant. One notable comic, titled “Quiet Night Thoughts” illustrates a poem by famed 7th century Chinese poet Li Bia. Xiao beautifully applies a poem written during the Tang Dynasty to her experience as a Chinese-American in the 21st century.

Given the independent nature of this publication, no particular age group is ascribed to the book. However, this book will mostly likely be appreciated by teens and emerging adults. Another issue with the independent publishing of this book is availability. This title most likely will not be available to libraries unless purchased from the publisher, Andrews McMeel Publishing, or Amazon. And, ultimately, may not be worth the investment.

Everything is Beautiful and I’m Not Afraid: A Baopu Collection is a sweet, engaging book. However, for a comic collection, the book is short at 128 pages. The collection feels incomplete. As a reader, I found myself wanting more. Xiao is clearly a young, very promising comic artist. I would love to read a more comprehensive volume of work from her. While I cannot recommend that this particular book be added to your library’s graphic novel collection, I would highly recommend that prospective readers take a look at Xiao’s professional Instagram account (@yaoxiaoart) and published work on Autostraddle. Xiao is a competent artist and cartoonist. More is certainly to come.

Everything is Beautiful and I’m Not Afraid: A Baopu Collection
By Yao Xiao
ISBN: 9781524852450
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: (16+)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Chinese American Bisexual, Queer
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, BIPOC Creator, LGBTQIA+ Creator

Superman Smashes the Klan

Set in 1946, Superman Smashes the Klan is based on a radio program from the 40s where the Superman brand was used to fight against the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Lee family moves into a nice neighborhood of Metropolis from the city’s Chinatown. The son, Tommy, quickly joins the neighborhood baseball team. The presence of the Lee family and Tommy’s participation in the baseball team sparks retaliation from a local chapter of the Klan of the Fiery Cross.

The Klan first demonstrates on the lawn of their home, then proceeds to target the Lee children; Tommy and Roberta (their Americanized names). Superman ends up saving the the children several times over. Roberta first notices that Superman may be holding back, and has other powers he’s not using. Superman has to come to terms with himself as an immigrant and embrace some of the abilities he has suppressed his whole life in fear of social ostracism.

The story is well-executed, especially the way Superman’s journey mirrors that of the Lee family. This title deals with racism in a faithful way that still is appropriate for younger kids. The art is simple and clean, and very reminiscent of 90s DC cartoon shows.

There is also a three-pronged afterword: Yang provides a background on the his family; including the different experiences he and his father had with racism growing up; there is a narrative about the radio program as it was originally conceived; and, there is a detailed historical perspective on how Chinese immigrants have been treated in American from the 1800s through their involvement in World War II. This backmatter provides some needed context for a story that may draw some criticism for the topic of this Superman adventure.

This is a great stand alone, but younger readers might need a reminder of how early in Superman’s timeline this story takes place.

DC’s age rating for this title is for grades 7 and up, and it is a great middle grade read. The only reason it doesn’t work as an all ages title is that elementary students might not have enough historical context for the Klan or World War II.

Superman Smashes the Klan
By Gene Luen Yang
Art by Gurihiru Smith
ISBN: 9781779504210
DC Comics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Grades 7+

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13), Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: Chinese American
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, BIPOC Creator
Related to…: Retelling

Your Black Friend and Other Strangers

In his introduction to Your Black Friend and Other Strangers, author and illustrator Ben Passmore writes, “I know you picked this book up thinking you were gonna read a whole lot of wokeness from a mad inspired and inspiring melaninated revolutionary King” And I’ll admit, he was relatively spot on for me—I thought I would be reading a collection of comics that would educate me about my unintentional racism and about the lived experiences of Black people in America. Reflecting on that thought, it seems a rather stilted expectation; luckily the collection did that, but had even more to offer.

The original Your Black Friend by Passmore was published as a 12-page zine by Silver Sprocket in 2016. It was nominated for an Eisner, won an Ignatz Award, and made it on NPR’s 2017 list of 100 Favorite Comics and Graphic Novels. Your Black Friend and Other Strangers was republished in March 2018 as an anthology of Passmore’s previously published pieces, as well as some of his new work. In the title piece, which is summarized in this three-minute animated clip, Passmore narrates his experiences as “your Black friend,” navigating the constant spectrum of racial expectations White people have, regardless of whether they view themselves as allies.

Because I can’t describe it better myself, I leave Silver Sprocket’s description of the comic to list the topics included in the anthology: “race, gentrification, the prison system, online dating, gross punks, bad street art, kung fu movie references, beating up God, and lots of other grown-up stuff with refreshing doses of humor and lived relatability.” Also notable is Passmore’s warning in the Introduction that “There are a bunch of comics in here that are supposed to turn you into Anarchists.” My favorite pieces, like “A Letter from Stone Mountain Jail” or “Whose Free Speech?”, were those that were more narrative- or politically based, telling stories of Passmore’s experiences in protests or his reflections on what political movements (e.g., Black Lives Matter versus Antifa) might actually have a chance of making long-term impact. My least favorite were the ones that were most abstract, such as “A Pantomime Horse I” or “Goodbye.” I found myself just confused at the end of several pieces, flipping back through to see what I had missed.

Passmore’s art aligns with the genre of the piece he’s writing. The pieces that are based on experience have a more literal style of cityscapes and corner stores, with large blocks of small text providing background information. However, pieces like “It’s Not About You” or “The Punklord” are vibrant with color and abstract creatures and imagined settings. I like the punk influence of his art—the characters with mohawks, piercings, gauges, and tattoos—as well as just more “realistic” characters with beards, dreads, hoodies, and suspenders. There is some violence and “gore,” but most of that is relegated to the more fantastical pieces of the book. (However, at one point two punks do end up biting, shooting, then beheading a police officer… but when the characters look like they belong in a punk adult version of the 90s Doug cartoon, it’s not as gory.)

Both the art and the writing ask for your attention in more than one sitting. I read the collection in one sitting, and it was a lot to take in. However, I will return to it in bits and pieces. There may be some parts that I never understand, as several other reviewers have mentioned similar feelings, but I know there is much in both the text and the art to appreciate repeatedly throughout the book.

I think this a comic worth investing in. It will be a good addition to a memoir collection, and it’s important to include memoirs by authors of color, especially about the experience of racism and activism in America. It’s likely best for readers who are 13 and up. Even younger teens (13-16) will benefit from reading about and gaining a better understanding of race and friendship, and the importance of activism and standing up against brutality and injustice. Many of the pieces have an elevated vocabulary and an expectation for a baseline understanding of anarchism and nihilism, which younger readers will likely lack, but as is evident throughout this review, the anthology is sort of a “mixed bag.” Anyone can find something of interest, but there will be pieces that some readers don’t understand or are just confused by. Ultimately, if everyone just reads at least the title comic, the world might be a better place.

Your Black Friend and Other Strangers
By Ben Passmore
ISBN: 9781945509209
Silver Sprocket, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: T (13+)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Black
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, BIPOC Creator

Banned Book Club

The Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, is based on the personal experiences of the author, who grew up during a time where South Korea was under a totalitarian government. It begins with Hyun and her mother arguing over her choice to go to school. Her mother wants her to give up school and continue to work in the family restaurant. Hyun ducks out to end the argument and attend her first day of school. Once off the bus, she is surrounded by protestors and police. Tear gas is exploding all around her, people pushing their way through the cloudy air to escape arrest. Hyun makes it to class and the teacher informs her that they need to stay away from Communist activities and not participate in protests.

Hyun wants to remain above the fray and avoid politics. She decides to join the folk dance team. They perform a dance for the school, which ends up turning political. She meets a young man on the team named Hoon who begins introducing her to new ideas. He runs the school newspaper and hides political messages in the articles. Hoon develops a crush on Hyun and the feeling turns mutual. He begins drawing her further into danger. She must decide how far she is willing to go.

The simplicity of the black and white artwork draws you into the horror of the situation. When Hyun first gets on campus, she experiences a moment of contentment. She is on a bus, headed to school, with a smile on her face. The minute she steps out, she is greeted with chants for the President to step down. The scene pulls back to reveal riot police with shields moving towards the protestors. Scenes shift to different angles, adding to the tension and chaos of the scene. There are two scenes of torture in the book. One is brief with the person having scrapes and bruises on their face. The other, while only a few pages seem as if it goes on forever. Part of it is left to the imagination as we see the objects he has been beaten with. The other act is quite cruel with the person’s face being smashed into the ground.

In the beginning, I found the title hard to get into as I had no familiarity or understanding of Korean history. The title Banned Book Club made me believe the story would be about how books changed the lives of students living in a brutal dictatorship. It was this aspect that I kept hoping would appear. After 94 pages the story began to take shape and I could see clearly where the author was going with the narrative. The theme became about how a young girl learns how to stand up and find her voice living with a government who wants to shut down any opposition or free thought. I highly recommend this book and suggest that readers learn about the Gwangju uprising to deepen their understanding. This graphic novel is most appropriate for older teens, but probably will be more appreciated by adults who are interested in historical events.

Banned Book Club
By Hyun Sook Kim
Art by Hyung-Ju Ko
ISBN: 9781945820427
Iron Circus Comics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: OT

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits: South Korean
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, BIPOC Creator

Green Lantern: Legacy

Tai Pham isn’t looking for trouble. He’s just living his life: helping in his beloved grandmother’s store, filling sketchbooks with drawings, and hanging out with his best friends. But sometimes, trouble finds him anyway, like when vandals target the store with thrown bricks and racist graffiti. Or when his grandmother passes away, and her jade ring starts following Tai around. It seems he’s been chosen to take over her role as a Green Lantern. But how can Tai become a member of a superpowered intergalactic peacekeeping force? He’s only thirteen!

The Green Lantern Corps is skeptical about bringing in a recruit so young. Still, they begin to train him, teaching him how to use his powers. But Tai has to keep up with his regular life, too. Which is how he and his two closest friends interview billionaire entrepreneur Xander Griffin. Why would a man like him take the time to talk to a group of kids working on a school project? Well, it turns out Xander Griffin knew Tai’s grandmother. What exactly was the connection? And what about Griffin’s plans to revitalize and remake Tai’s neighborhood? Should Tai be excited, or worried?

The story in Green Lantern: Legacy is fairly simple, as origin stories often are, especially when aimed at kids. However, it touches on some big themes: looking out for others, learning to trust and rely on your friends, and being willing to challenge authority when necessary. The story also spotlights the conflict that can arise between innovation and tradition. Will Tai support a top-down revamp of his neighborhood that could make it safer, but would also strip the citizens of their privacy and the community of its identity? Or will he follow in his grandmother’s footsteps, doing the hard, slow work to improve the neighborhood from the ground up?

Tai Pham is the first Asian-American Green Lantern, part of DC’s welcome diversification of the franchise. Minh Lê and Andie Tong have found many ways to naturally incorporate Tai’s Vietnamese-American identity into the story. His grandmother describes using her Green Lantern abilities to help her family and others safely come to America during wartime. Tai’s family encounters racism, as when vandals spray-paint the words “go home” on his grandmother’s store. Characters sometimes use Vietnamese terms, which are translated in a glossary at the end of the story. When he and his friends redesign his Green Lantern costume, the ever-artistic Tai adds some Vietnamese-style flair.

Familiarity with the Green Lantern franchise is not a requirement for enjoying this book, but will definitely offer readers some perks. For instance, Green Lantern fans will likely enjoy seeing popular character John Stewart helping to train Tai. The Phams even have a cat named Jordan, probably a shout-out to another well-known Lantern, Hal Jordan.

The art of Green Lantern: Legacy is bright, clear, and expressive. The characters are easy to tell apart, and the action scenes are easy to read visually. Colorist Sarah Stern uses a vibrant and varied color palette, and she excels at portraying all the glowing green energy and alien architecture that come up so often in a Green Lantern comic.

This is a rich, refreshing addition to DC’s new spate of graphic novels for kids and teens. (The end material of this book includes a sneak peek at another such book, Batman: Overdrive.) Hand it to fans of Super Sons and other kid-friendly superhero comics.

Green Lantern: Legacy
By Minh Lê
Art by Andie Tong
ISBN: 9781401283551
DC Kids, 2020

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Character Traits: Vietnamese American
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, BIPOC Creator

The Cardboard Kingdom

The Cardboard Kingdom is an anthology book, with Chad Sell illustrating the stories of neighborhood children and the intersection of their make-believe and personal lives. Each chapter, written by a different author, features a protagonist’s imagined self serving as an outlet for how they feel in their normal life. The roles these children choose for themselves range widely, including heroes and villains, power fantasies alongside supportive roles, and invention taking place next to action. While some of the kids have brief periods of confusion getting into the collective fantasy or figuring out their individual place within the group, eventually all are accepted and lauded for their unique features.

This premise sounds light and fun, and it absolutely is, with Sell’s artwork generally portraying a bright, friendly neighborhood full of potential for play. This is an all-ages affair with easily understood themes, including ones of introspective struggle and frustration. For example, one of the children, a boy, role-plays as an evil queen, complete with boots and large hair. Another kingdom-dweller, a girl, wears a mustache. Each of them has a hurdle to overcome in getting their parents on board with how they play, which depends on communication and empathy.

Wordless sequences invite the reader to identify how characters feel and why they react the way they do, like a slightly more mature Owly. Any difficulty between family members tends to come down to a gap in understanding. In other cases, a child will play rough, want to incorporate animals in a certain way, or base their persona in reaction to their parents’ separation. Each writer’s story comes from a personal place, which results in a cascading emotional rush over the course of the book as one poignant tale bookends another and the group takes on a larger meaning than any given individual. Kids cameo in each other’s stories, and it’s fun to pick out their forms of play in each chapter. Forget DC and Marvel, this is the connected comics universe I want to follow!

The Cardboard Kingdom begs a certain comparison to another kid-friendly paean to creativity and lost afternoons adventuring around the neighborhood: Calvin & Hobbes. Calvin would absolutely get along/playfully wage war with these kids, and they would invite a living, breathing Hobbes into the action without a moment’s hesitation. In this case, instead of the standoffish “No Girls Allowed” treehouse, the level of play is closer to the anything-goes antics of Calvinball, where the rules are made up but anyone can jump in, including diverse skin tones.

There is no content warning for this book, though you will likely need a tissue by the end, whether you recognize yourself in one of the kids or share in the quiet and loud emotional triumphs that will speak to children and adults alike. I cannot imagine anyone with a heart not being affected by the unbridled joy of this book and so recommend it to the highest possible degree… from the children’s shelf. Keep some drawing materials, LEGO, or cardboard of your own on hand for when this book blows up your own creative urges.

The Cardboard Kingdom
By Various Authors
Art by Chad Sell
ISBN: 9781524719371
Knopf Books, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: Grade 4-7

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Character Traits: Multiracial Queer Genderqueer
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, LGBTQIA+ Creator